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Techies, tribbles and toilets

By , Network World
November 03, 2003 12:12 AM ET

Network World - Best known as "Star Trek's" Capt. James T. Kirk, William Shatner is something of a techie in real life, too. Last year he penned a book called I'm Working on That, A Trek from Science Fiction to Fact, and last week his keynote address kicked off the inaugural IT Infrastructure Management conference in New Orleans. Network World Senior Writer Denise Dubie caught up with the actor after his talk, and while he dismissed just about any question having to do with Star Trek ("It was too many years ago to remember"), he had plenty to say about the state of technology.

What are you doing speaking at an IT service management trade show?

The subject matter is something I've written a book about, so it was right along with my way of thinking. This show, the people hosting and attending, are all involved with managing or serving people, and trying to do it better with technology. Well, that's my thing ...[how] the technology is there, but the human engineering isn't.

What do you mean?

Take a cell phone, for example. The device lets you press a button, connects to radio frequency and lets you to talk to anyone anywhere. It's great. And then they add a great feature, the first eight numbers you have are speed dial. So you can press 1 and get your wife right away. Phenomenal, right? Now let me tell you about my friend who just got a divorce because he pressed 1 on his cell phone when he didn't mean to... In that case, the cell phone represents the stupidest ergonomic engineering you've ever seen. And that's just an example of how lacking in humanity the technology is.

Because I don't type, I was turned off from computers long ago. Then I heard about voice-recognition technology and I started using that, but that doesn't work. If you want to delete a word, you say 'delete.' But it will type the word 'delete.'

What types of technology do you think truly incorporate the human element?

In my research, I visited a lot of high-tech labs. At [one school], they were working on chips that they put in your toothbrush to monitor and measure your saliva for medical reasons. The chip sends a radio signal to your doctor. The chip follows everything inside a human being; [this sort of technology is] not just for the package tracking with FedEx or UPS. Nano-technology that will monitor the inside of the human body is mind-boggling.

In your research, what Star Trek-like technologies have you come across?

It's not so much the technology of Star Trek, the show that I was involved with lo these many years ago. It's the dream of the future that Star Trek represented. With our increase of knowledge in these 35 years that have passed by ... things are rushing at us now at incredible speed, proliferating like tribbles.

Well, what technologies in general fascinate you?

It all interests me, from nano-technology to simpler things. The miracle of how it all works is totally interesting to me. The toilet is a mystery to me. How the water stays at the same level. Why you have to jiggle the handle sometimes and sometimes not.

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